FORT BRAGG, N.C. (Reuter) — June 10, 1996 - 6:24 a.m.
The military trial of a sergeant accused of gunning down 19 comrades and killing one begins Monday, with lawyers for the soldier expected to argue that his repeated pleas for psychological help were ignored by the army.
Sgt. William Kreutzer, Jr., 27, a member of a crack paratrooper unit who had been awarded the Army Good Conduct Medal, is charged with murdering fellow 82nd Airborne soldier, Maj. Stephen Badger, 38.
Kreutzer also faces 18 counts of attempted murder, four counts of maiming and several weapons violations in the court martial. The military trial, which could ultimately result in his execution, is expected to last less than a week.
Army prosecutors say that last Oct. 27, Kreutzer hid among pine trees outside of a stadium at Fort Bragg until it was filled with 1,300 troops who were gathering for morning calisthenics and exercises. Kreutzer then grabbed a .22-caliber semi-automatic rifle and began firing at the soldiers, according to several witnesses.
He was wrestled to the ground by fellow soldiers just outside of the stadium and arrested.
The Army said Badger was shot as he rushed at Kreutzer in an attempt to disarm him. Badger died at the scene. Kreutzer, of Clinton, Md., tried to plead guilty to the charges last month. But a military judge rejected the plea, saying a jury must hear the charges and determine the punishment. Defense attorney Maj. James Gibson is expected to point to Kreutzer's history of depression and need for psychological treatment to try to keep him from the military's death row. But Army officials, speaking on condition of anonymity, said Kreutzer would not plead insanity to the charges.
Journalists were not permitted to interview either the prosecution or defense ahead of the trial.
Kreutzer's parents, Cathy and William Kreutzer, Sr., said they would attend the trial. They have told reporters their son deserves to be punished, but not executed.
They said the Army shared the blame for the shooting because their son's superiors failed to respond to Kreutzer's calls for help. They said the day before the shooting he called a hospital on the base for mental help but was told none was available.
Kreutzer also called a soldier in his unit and warned him that he was going to shoot the formation the next morning. The soldier he called, Spec. Burl Mays, has said he warned superiors about Kreutzer's call but they failed to take any action and ordered the exercises to continue as scheduled.
Kreutzer had previously been treated for depression in 1994, while serving with a rotating U.S. force on the Sinai Peninsula in Egypt, military records show.
He has been held since his arrest at a military prison at Camp Lejeune Marine Corps Base in Jacksonville, N.C.
A jury of seven enlisted soldiers and five officers was selected Thursday to hear trial testimony, set to begin early Monday morning. None of the jurors belong to the 82nd.
The Army claims the attack was pre-planned and was staged because of growing resentment toward his unit. Kreutzer is a member of the 325th Parachute Infantry Regiment, part of the 82nd Airborne, a quick-strike force of Army paratroopers that are usually the first to go into combat.
The military last executed a soldier in 1961, but there are currently eight U.S. service personnel on the military's death row at various stages of appeal. The U.S. Supreme Court recently ruled the military may impose the death penalty in certain situations.
A court martial in many ways is similar to a civilian criminal trial. The biggest difference, however, is that only two-thirds of the 12 jurors must find Kreutzer guilty for him to be convicted.
But three unanimous verdicts are needed for Kreutzer to be punished with a death sentence.
First, the jury must unanimously determine he is guilty, then unanimously find aggravating circumstances exist. Finally, the jurors must be unanimous in a vote to put Kreutzer to death.
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